Bruges vs Ghent – A weekend trip to Belgium

Ghent or Bruges? When visiting Belgium for a weekend we surely know what we would do. #belgium #roadtrip

What do you do, when there’s a long weekend off ahead of you and you happen to have a car at your disposal? Sure thing! You go on a spontaneous road trip to Belgium. You visit Gent and love it, move on to Bruges and hate it. You drive to the coast, sleep in your car right next to the beach and return with a little detour via Antwerp. But let’s start right from the beginning. My dear Grimm and I went on our first holiday together – a short roadtrip on a weekend to visit some places in Belgium. In the end we found the answer to the question “Which place is the most beautiful – Ghent or Bruges?”

Which place is more beautiful - Ghent or Bruges? We made up our minds already
Ghent is pretty

A mini road trip through Belgium

Before we started our little get away, we asked some friends who claimed to be well informed Belgium-Experts on what to do and what to avoid in Belgium.

If you happen to have a long weekend before you, how about a spontaneous road trip to Belgium? In three days we visited Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp and slept at the beach. Culture, History, marvellous architecture and of course lots of Belgian food awaits you.
Antwerp is quite classy, too

Next to some quiet and shy remarks about Ghent and Antwerp the majority swooned over Bruges. A cheesy, dreamy, disney-like reality come true. A place that you can’t possibly grasp completely in three days only. “Only 3 days? No, that is waaay too little time for Bruges. You should invest a week at least.”
Yes, sounds all right. Better not travel at all, if there’s not enough time…

If you happen to have a long weekend before you, how about a spontaneous road trip to Belgium? In three days we visited Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp and slept at the beach. Culture, History, marvellous architecture and of course lots of Belgian food awaits you.
Udo Walz selling waffles in Ghent

Or, well, just make the best out of the time you have. Simply leaving for foreign places on an ordinary weekend is something quite liberating and satisfying for a person like me, who already gets wanderlust after a week of returning from a trip.

Which place is more beautiful - Ghent or Bruges? We made up our minds already
Seriously Ghent – that’s enough. staaawp being so pweettyy

Ghent is worth a visit – or two

In the end we like Ghent much more than Bruges. It was in fact abominably beautiful. Old and crooked cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, one building more beautiful than the other. Gravensteen castle, boat tours*, fries with joppie sauce and Belgian beer from the kiosk.

If you happen to have a long weekend before you, how about a spontaneous road trip to Belgium? In three days we visited Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp and slept at the beach. Culture, History, marvellous architecture and of course lots of Belgian food awaits you.
Frikandel Spezial and Fries with Joppie Sauce

We arrived in Ghent late afternoon on a Saturday and after some rain showers the weather turned out so nice and allowed me to take some standard cheesy touristy photos with romantic backlight. A Disney dream come true, don’t you think?

The imposing Castle Gravensteen in the heart of Ghent, Belgium
Castle Gravensteen

After a calm and relaxing night on a free parking space and a hot shower at the camp site nearby we continued towards Bruges. Full of joy and anticipation, as we’ve been told from all sites what a sight it is.
Dang!, we thought, if Gent is already too good to be true, Bruges will flash us like nothing ever before.

View out of the windows of Old St. Johns Hospitel in Bruges, Belgium
The Old St. Johns Hospital in Bruges

Not.
Well, I don’t want to start a rant about Bruges… but have you seen Ghent? If you happen to be able to visit Belgium for on day only, VISIT. GHENT. Bruges is the ugly little sister of Ghent.

Which place is more beautiful - Ghent or Bruges? We made up our minds already
Bruges – kinda nice

In Bruges

“Definitely watch ‘In Bruges’ before you visit Bruges!” was the advice of some friends. Due to some time managment issues we were not able to watch the movie before our trip, but a week later we managed. Oh and it was so fitting. Our Bruges anti-attitude was perfectly embodies by Colin Farrell.

The wide variety of Belgian beer in Ghent - opposite the beautiful Gravensteen castle
A small selection of Belgian beer, directly opposite Gravensteen castle

For those of you, who haven’t watched the film – the two protagonists Ken and Ray are required to submerge in Bruges after a failed contract kill. While Ken loves the historical town with its old buildings and Disney charme Ray is permanently ranting about Bruges.

Which place is more beautiful - Ghent or Bruges? We made up our minds already
Bruges – Sure, compared to the grey tristesse of many German town centers Bruges can truly offer more

“In Bruges” is by the way a very good movie (starring Colin Farell as Bruges Hater Ray, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph ‘Voldemort’ Fiennes). But all joking aside. Bruges is in fact quite beautiful compared to ordinary European cities. Old buildings, cobble streets, swans on picturesque canals, churches. The full program.

Which place is more beautiful - Ghent or Bruges? We made up our minds already
Abominably beautiful – Ghent

But Gent is prettier. Gent ist much more beautiful. When we walked through Bruges’ street we optimistically awaited to be blown away by its beauty. We wanted the cheesiness. But we were blinded by Ghent already.

The Old St. Johns hospital in Bruges, Belgium.
Recently you can visit a Picasso exhibition in the Old St. Johns Hospital

Our personal highlights in Bruges though were two exhibitions. The Picasso exhibition in Old St. John’s Hospital on the on hand, and a Salvador Dalí exhibition next to the Belfort, which we unfortunately couldn’t climb anymore as it was already too late. At least we had plenty of time to discover and enjoy all the culinary sites of Belgium.

If we were to travel to Bruges for a second time we would probably pay the Historium* a visit and would probably ask a local* how it feels to live in Bruges – with Ghent being so close and yet so far.

If you happen to have a long weekend before you, how about a spontaneous road trip to Belgium? In three days we visited Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp and slept at the beach. Culture, History, marvellous architecture and of course lots of Belgian food awaits you.
A must eat: Belgian Waffles

Let’s go to the sea

Fully strengthened by waffles and burgers we continued our road trip towards the North as it was our original plan to visit the sea. We wanted to sleep and have breakfast by the sea. And after plenty of driving around we made it to a free parking site right next to the ocean. We were in Ostend, a town which has completely destroyed their beautiful coastline by plastering one ugly apartment block next to the other. You might know this view from the German North Sea already (if you love nature I can recommend Prerow at the Baltic Sea to you). But in the end we found that perfect parking spot with a clear view at the sea. Lovely!

Belgium Roadtrip. The free parking site was a great place to sleep over and have breakfast at
Breakfast in Gent on the free parking site

A quick side trip

Lastly on our way back on Monday we paid Antwerp a little visit. The gastown and the harbour are quite pretty and there’s some impressive buildings all over the city. We also accidentally ended up in the sex trade district. Display windows on display windows we faced (mostly bored) women and ladyboys. And of course some embarrassed potential clients who awkwardly looked down to their feet in my presence.

If you happen to have a long weekend before you, how about a spontaneous road trip to Belgium? In three days we visited Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp and slept at the beach. Culture, History, marvellous architecture and of course lots of Belgian food awaits you.
iPhone Photography

Belgian drivers

Driving a car in Antwerp turned out to be really nerve-racking. The marked-out route was a total mess and the fact that Belgians are not able to drive properly didn’t make it better. Seemingly every second crossroad was stuffed and if you made a wrong turn you had quite some difficulty finding your way back due to way too many one way streets. In total it took us about 30 minutes from the harvour to the motorway – where another traffic jam awaited us. Around 10pm we finally made it back to Dortmund. Quite tired but also very happy with such a nice weekend our memories.

Our Belgium road trip lead us all the way to Ostende, where we had breakfast by the sea.
Breakfast by the sea – Ostend

So if you have time for a spontaneous little tour, consider visiting Belgium. And make sure to visit Ghent, not Bruges 😉

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17 Responses

  1. Wow, Belgium looks just like a fairy tale! My hubby’s family lives in Amsterdam, so next time we’re there I’m going to plan a side trip to Belgium! That sunset in Ghent is just gorgeous. Thanks for the tips!!!

    1. Thanks Adrien!
      You really should, it’s just a stone’s throw away and I’m sure you will love it (though I honestly think that Amsterdam is one of the prettiest cities in Europe 🙂

  2. This is the most interesting Belgium post I ever had the pleasure to read. I come originally from Bruges, have lived most of my life in Ghent but I’m back in Bruges now. I love Bruges so much more than Ghent, it’s so much prettier in my opinion haha. So it’s really interesting to hear that somebody actually likes Ghent better! I must say though that Ghent might be more comfortable to walk around because walking around in Bruges is a pain in the ass (if you live and go to school in the center, that is) because of the tourist groups that constantly block the sidewalks/roads and don’t let you pass.
    But really, I’m glad you write your opinion and that you talk about Ghent. Ghent IS very beautiful but it’s underrated because everyone seems to be obsessed about Bruges and they forget that there are other things in Belgium besides Bruges…
    Great post!

    1. Dear Cristina,
      thank you for your thoughful comment and opinion! 🙂 I love your insight as a local who lived in both cities. I myself have only been there for a couple of hours each and could base my opinion only on this first impression. I felt much more at peace in Ghent, especially due to the reasons you have mentioned in your comment – it’s much calmer and less touristy.

      I surely don’t want to prevent people from visiting Bruges (every traveller should build their own opinion), but rather to bring up less known places to attention.

      If I ever revisit Bruges I’ll let you know and maybe you can show me your favourite places off the tracks.
      Have a great day!

  3. I absolutely love how you can easily drive a car and find yourself in a different country when you live in Europe… Except that I live in Cyprus and it’s an island, lol! Lovely article, keen to watch the movie you suggested!

    1. Hi Stefanie,
      yes, that’s the most amazing thing about Europe. I love to just take a weekend off in order to visit a neighbour country.
      I have never been to Cyprus (but I’d love to) and I can totally understand that it might complicate travel a bit ^^

  4. AH, love the photo of the buildings taken through the window! Your photos definitely make this all the more of an attractive location for me. 🙂

    1. Thank you Kay!
      It was a pleasure taking photos on this trip. We were so lucky with the light and the beauty of the architecture in Belgium only made it better 🙂

  5. I getcha. Ghent has me swooning every time. Although Antwerp’s much more fun if you arrive by sea or rail. It has to be said that I’ve found myself entranced by most of Belgium, and I keep returning. I’m currently dreaming of the Gravensteen at sunset, and Mr Materlink’s bluebirds light installation glowing bright in the tree of a snowy Ghent.

    1. Thanks! We didn’t have much time for Antwerp’s and I’m sure it has a lot more to offer 🙂 And Gravensteen was one of our highlights of the whole trip. It looked so beautiful in the ‘almost-sunset’ light!

  6. I agree. Though Bruges is beautiful, I found it a bit lifeless. Gent, on the other hand, was surprise and I fell in love with it. Charm, beauty, a vibrancy – definitely, if you’re in Belgium, Gent is a must.

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